Out LGBT+ Teachers Are Essential for the Survival of LGBT+ Kids
“My life changed because of a lesbian teacher. I didn’t believe that people like me could be good teachers until I had a queer teacher. My teacher was the first to accept me.”
The idea that teachers can be life changing influences is nothing new. But the idea that (out) lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT+) teachers can be life-saving is.
“Some teachers don’t share their gender or sexuality with their students or peers.”
“If they choose to share, they aren’t protected from discrimination under the law. This lack of protection can hurt both students and teachers.”
In June 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from discrimination.
“This ruling means that teachers can’t be discriminated against for their sexual orientation in a classroom. More than 20 states have introduced bills that target how teachers talk to kids about homosexuality.”
The bills are known as “No Promo Homo” or “Don\’t Say Gay” and would make it legal to discriminate against teachers in some states.
In Florida, for example, a Parental Rights in Education Bill signed in March 2022 forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for kids of a certain age.
This could give parents and schools the motivation to fire teachers who come out and share information about their sexual orientation or gender identity, like having a picture of their same- gender partner on their desk.
“Having an out LGBT+ teacher can change the trajectory of a student’s life for the better.”
The benefits of having an out teacher are not limited to kids who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer.
1. It can help students feel seen and safe
“Having LGBT+ representation will help queer and questioning kids feel seen and safe,” says Ley Cray, director of LGBTQIA+ programming at Charlie Health, a virtual mental health clinic for high-acuity youth.
“A teacher in Massachusetts shared that they once taught a fifth- grade student who didn’t have access to a TV or computer at home.”
They say that the student told them that they had never seen a person like them before.
2. It can help create a larger sense of community
Seeing their identities represented in the classroom can give kids a sense of community, support, and validation. It allows them to feel like they are in the world.
3. It can give all students access to another ~slice of life~
Students are given real-life situations to navigate in school, says a lesbian who works with middle and high school students.
She says that they are forced to work in groups and interact with people of different skin colors.
How is that different for students than working with someone who is gay? She says the answer is nothing.
4. It can offer tangible proof that a happy LGBT+ life is possible
It gives concrete examples that help a young person visualize themselves as someone with a happy and healthy future.
Given that LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their non-LGBTQ peers, the power of feeling like your life is one worth living cannot be understated.
5. It may help students realize they want to be teachers themselves
When a student sees only one type of educator teaching, they subconsciously begin to believe that only someone who fits those parameters can or should become a teacher, says Kryss Shane, LSW, LMSW, author of “The Educator’s Guide to LGBT+ Inclusion: A Practical Resource Guide for K-12 Teachers, Administrators, and School Support Staff.”
When students see a variety of people teaching, they begin to see that they can become a teacher too, and that all of their peers are potential future teachers, says Shane.
6. It can give students a person to direct their questions to
“Molly M., a queer teacher working in middle school special education, says that being an out teacher has allowed her to be a resource for kids who haven’t learned about gender or sexuality at home, as well as those who are specifically being taught that being LGBT+ is bad.”
A teacher in Brooklyn reports a similar experience.
After I came out to my students, a number of them came up to me with questions about their gender identities, which ultimately helps give them the tools they need to explore themselves.
A classroom that fails in several ways is a classroom without representation.
“It doesn’t represent the world as it actually is. In a diverse world, classrooms that avoid or suppress a range of representation give false impressions.”
It can lead kids who are different from what they see in their surroundings to feel like outsiders.
Being an outsider can make someone feel like they are deviant, deficient, or delusional.
“It can also contribute to feelings of isolation, as well as internalized homophobia or transphobia, all of which exacerbate the significant levels of minority stress LGBT+ persons already face,” Cray says.
“The weight of diversity doesn’t fall solely on LGBT+ teachers, but on other teachers as well.”
The weight of the state Legislature and school administrators is on teachers to come out.
Whether you come out is a personal decision, one that can be influenced by a number of factors.
- How comfortable are you with your sexual orientation?
- How comfortable are you with different labels?
- Your relationship status and security.
- Financial security and job security.
There are benefits to consider.
1. You get to be yourself
“You can’t separate a person from their sexual orientation. Being LGBT+ informs how you interpret and navigate the world.”
So, when you come out to your students and co-workers, you’re essentially allowing yourself to show up, as, well, you at work every day.
A Charlotte-based high school teacher who came out to his students for the first time last year says he feels lighter walking into work every day because of it.
2. You won’t have to live a “dual” life
If you aren\’t out at school, you may feel like you have to keep up a “double” life.
This can lead to intense emotional and mental exhaustion, according to Cray, who says that long-term depression, anxiety, substance use, and dissociation could become a risk.
That is the reason why the man named Jared B. decided to come out.
He says that not being out at school made him feel like he had a real life. The split felt and impacted my mental well-being because I feel like teaching is my calling.
3. It may help your mental health
When someone is intimidated into keeping their identity a secret, they risk being outed.
“They might have that information shared in a way that doesn’t correspond with their ideal timelines.”
They say that people who are still in the closet can create an intense amount of anxiety.
Not being out can make a person feel bad.
- suspicious of anyone who asks personal questions
- Being paranoid about being outed.
- When in public with a partner.
4. It may give you opportunities to be a mentor to kids who need one
When you tell your students that you’re not cisgender or straight, you are also telling them that you’re a person they can talk with about their own gender and sexuality, as well as things they’ve learned about gender and sexuality.
Molly M. says that being out as gay gave her the chance to be a sounding board for students in secret relationships with someone of the same gender.
It is not just the kids who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer who may come to you.
Molly M. says she had students who were interested in her experience with homosexuality.
She says there were some really fun conversations she had with students. The hard conversations helped students realize that the teacher they loved was the one who was teaching them the wrong thing.
5. It may extend the “lifespan” of your career
Being out may increase your interest in staying in your current school district or continuing your career as a teacher over the years.
LGBT+ teachers who are not out end up feeling depressed and alienated at work, and often leave their careers to live openly.
It harms our society as our teacher workforce is already too low and great educators are life changing for all children.
This article may have convinced you that coming out is beneficial for you and your students. Before you start, be sure to read up on the discrimination laws in your state.
Molly M. says that she felt comfortable coming out because she lives in Massachusetts, which has anti- discrimination laws. I work for a school district that is known for treating their employees well.
To find out whether it’s legal for you to come out in your classroom, as well as what types of protections are in place, check out this nondiscrimination map.
Molly M. suggests that you be prepared for the type of stress you experience when you are out in the class, rather than the type of stress you experience when you are closeted.
She says that there are times when being out is going to be stress and that you will feel like your sexuality is a burden. There are some moments where you can be there for your students that feel special.
What does it look like to come out to students, exactly?
It is a good question with a lot of answers. Some teachers come out on the first day of class by announcing their gender or sexuality with a list of other other things.
Some people choose to do so by posting photos of their family in their classroom or hanging a rainbow flag on the wall.
You can mention it to students only if it makes them feel better.
Before coming out to a group of students, Dani H. likes to ask herself the following questions.
- Will it help the student if they know about me?
- Would it build another layer of trust with them?
- Would learning that I am gay open their minds to other people with the same sexual orientation?
Kids across the gender and sexuality spectrum benefit from having representation in the classroom.
Most teachers need proof that their school district and state will protect them from discrimination for the representation of LGBT+ to be effective.
Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tested over 200 vibrators, and eaten, drunk, and brushed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books and romance novels, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.